With just one week left in Minnesota’s 2022 legislative session, the divided Capitol seems far from reaching an agreement on tax cuts, increased funding for classrooms and how to fight against the increase in violent crime in the state.
While lawmakers have already struck a multibillion-dollar deal to replenish an unemployment insurance fund and send checks to frontline workers, about $6 billion of the nearly $9.3 billion surplus provided for by the State remain unused. Recent tax collections have shown that the state continues to pull in hundreds of millions of dollars more than expected.
“There are plenty of resources to get money back into people’s hands, especially working families and child care right now, reduce the cost of early childhood education, be in able to permanently cut some tax cuts for the middle class,” said DFL Governor Tim. Waltz. “That little extra makes it a win, win, win. We can do all of those things.”
Unlike in previous years, Walz said he would not call lawmakers back for a special session if they did not complete their work in time, putting more pressure on top leaders to strike a deal in the coming days. .
Lawmakers set the state’s two-year budget last session and there’s no requirement for them to do anything this year, but Republicans remain committed to pushing for permanent tax cuts to make part of the surplus to the people of Minnesota. Democrats favored smaller one-time rebates and tax credits.
“While we are open to finding common ground in the areas of public safety and education, perhaps broadband and other areas, we also remain focused on restoring money in the pockets of Minnesotans,” said Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona.
The governor and top legislative leaders shuttled between meetings all past week, mute about what they were discussing behind closed doors. Most of the public discussion has taken place at joint committee meetings between the House and the Senate, where the two sides have aired differences in their plans.
Those divisions are most stark on education, where House-controlling Democrats are proposing to spend more than $3 billion over three years to hire thousands of mental health workers, expand pre-kindergarten offerings and fund state and federally mandated programs that schools have long struggled to budget.
“There are all kinds of stresses and strains that students go through that require our response, and the good news is that we have the resources. Historically, we’ve argued that Minnesota didn’t have the resources,” said Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis. , the chairman of the House Education Finance Committee. “That’s definitely not true now. We have the resources they need statewide.”
Education spending by Senate Republicans focuses on $30 million for a literacy initiative and $700,000 for the state to hire reading coaches. At a hearing last week, Senate Education Chairman Roger Chamberlain R-Lino Lakes was visibly frustrated about pumping more money into programs as reading scores for the state fell.
“What problems has the state solved for these children, what problems has the state solved for the teachers? said Chamberlain. “We keep promising all of these solutions and we’ll pour on programs and pour money and pour on mandates and politics, to what end?”
On crime, the Republican Senate wants to toughen penalties for carjackers and repeat offenders, while spending grants to help recruit more police officers. House Democrats are pushing a heavyweight proposal on grants to community nonprofits and outreach to officers in high-crime areas and want to focus on recruiting a more diverse police force.
Joint conversations between the House and Senate last week did little to point the way to a deal on public safety, but both sides put on an optimistic face. “We came in like a lamb and we come out like a lion, but nonetheless, I think we’ll have a good discussion,” said Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. .
In the end, lawmakers might simply run out of time to find agreement on some of the session’s thorniest issues, which means many of them will simply drop out. Legislators are motivated to quickly wrap up their work this year and embark on the campaign trail. The governor’s office and the 201 seats in the Legislative Assembly are up for grabs in the fall.
“Hopefully the week we have will give us enough time to really dig into these things,” said Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, who chairs the House Public Safety Committee. “I’m a little worried about that. Time isn’t always our best friend.”
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